Monday, April 20, 2009

Characters Online

I recently read somewhere (I wish I could remember where) that a movie script in which two persons were unable to connect through the entire movie was deemed unrealistic in an age of cell phone proliferation.

What I'm waiting for is a movie in which two people are in constant communication, are completely on the same wavelength, have a real connection, are close friends and yet never lay eyes on each other and only interact digitally. In this age of social networking sites, blogs and other digital communication, this seems like a realistic scenario. In the past this only occurred if one of the characters was a computer but now the possibilities seem endless.

A couple of years ago I was reading Nancy Pickard's The Virgin of Small Plains (which I highly recommend) and in the midst of the story one of the minor characters logged onto her computer:

In her room, seated in a straight-backed chair in front of a scarred old wooden desk, Catie logged onto thevirgin.org which was the most popular of the small number of websites that had sprung up about the Virgin of Small Plains. Without even stopping to read through the entries from that day, she opened a new window to type up her own account of the astonishing thing that had truly happened to her.

Pickard then created Catie's blog post. For those of us who spend time online this was a very true moment. For those people who know nothing about blogs, it was a small enough part of the story that it didn't distract from anything.

At the time I thought it was just a matter of time before someone created a virtual community that was integral to the plot. And that is what Laura Lippman did in her mystery novel By a Spider's Thread. Lippman's detective Tess Monaghan is asked to track down a missing wife and mother who has run off with her children. Tess, who is in Baltimore, discovers that they are in the the Midwest. But instead of traveling to the Midwest herself, Tess relies on a network of other female private investigators with whom she communicates via a listserv and instant messaging. The listserv is called Snoopsisters. The members help each other out with cases but they also listen to each other. They share their frustrations and their successes. The conversations that Monaghan creates sounded realistic to me and Tess couldn't have solved the mystery without the Snoopsisters.

I liked this idea and I hoped that Lippman would continue it in later books. But, although she mentions the Snoopsisters in later books, they aren't integral to the plot and Lippman doesn't create any conversations for us to read.

It is only a matter of time before someone writes an entire story involving people who only know each other digitally. Or who have met but only interact digitally, like old college friends who have rediscovered each other through Facebook. Or blog friends who finally meet each other in person. Maybe an updated version of the country house mystery where the bloggers spend a weekend at a bed and breakfast. Perhaps in southern Indiana ...